Friday, December 23, 2005

Open Letter to Caroline Flint

Caroline Flint, MP
Minister for Public Health
Department of Health
Richmond House, 79
Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS

Dear Ms Flint,

I’m going to trust that you are aware that the long term benefits of breast-feeding. I am going to assume that you have considered the recommendations made by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. I am going to assume that you believe breast-feeding to be beneficial to children, families and society.

For this reason, I urge you to reconsider your position on David Kidney’s New Clauses 3 and 4 in the Health Bill. For a public health official to be dismissive (about an issue of critical import to the nation’s health) astounds me. In addition, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that you believe the evidence of obstruction for mums wanting to breast-feed in public is “anecdotal.” I believe this to be what author, Meredith Tax, calls gender based censorship.

Gender based censorship “is embedded in a range of social mechanisms that mute women's voices, deny validity to their experience, and exclude them from the political discourse. Its purpose is to obscure the real conditions of women's lives ... by targeting women who don't know their place in order to intimidate the rest.(1) What I can clearly determine is that you are not aware that the very reasons you have given not to support this legislation are in fact the same tools used traditionally to silence women.

New motherhood should be one of the most empowering, euphoric times in a woman’s life. However, it is one of the most vulnerable, terrifying and isolating moments. The extreme physiological changes in postpartum women combined with sleep deprivation, financial, familial and professional concerns create vast emotional fluctuations. It becomes easy at this point to victimise women.

Public breast-feeding is stigmatised because of the objectification of women’s bodies. What is indecent and criminal, is the idea that it is not acceptable to provide the absolute best possible care for your child. Breast-feeding women - like rape victims or battered women - fail to report these assaults because of a lack of awareness. Many are unaware that they have been violated. They blame themselves. They believe they deserved it. They believe they are indecent.

Any mother who has been shamed, harassed or forced to leave an establishment has been discriminated against based upon her gender. More importantly, both the woman and her child have been assaulted. This assault has tangible and immediately quantifiable effects. It is impossible to explain to an infant or toddler why they are not being fed. All they are able to understand is that something critical to their physical well-being is denied. And because the woman blames herself, she weans the child.

I strongly urge you to visit this bulletin board which police officers frequent.
http://www.policespecials.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=31998
The officers were discussing the case of the woman from Norfolk who came forward to complain about how she was treated for publicly breastfeeding her 28 day old child. This is the attitude of the people who should be looking after the best interest of the country. Many of the officers equated public breastfeeding with “urinating in public.” And while it is the “most natural thing in the world to do,” “so is urinating.” Legislation would quickly solve this attitude problem.

It is hard to believe that even 50 years ago, courts allowed a woman’s previous sexual history to be entered into evidence, thereby placing the woman - not the rapist on trial. We would no more say - as a modern society - that a woman who was raped was asking for it because of her clothes, her attitude or her geographic location. As a society, we have come to realise that this violence against women is not a function of her gender, but an act of violence by a criminal. Still, it took years of studies to put in place the barest minimum of protection for women because it was largely seen as “anecdotal.”

The silencing shameful nature of these crimes continues - even today - and leads to 80% of women failing to report these crimes. This is exactly what we are doing by failing to protect breast-feeding mothers. We are forcing them to carry shame and humiliation due to the actions of malicious others.

For this reason, I am writing to testify on behalf of myself and other breast-feeding mothers. I am going to trust that you are aware that for every one woman who speaks up, there are 8 or 9 others who will say nothing. So count my letter eight times.

I have been harassed frequently for breast-feeding my child in public and private. And I have been harassed by people who should know better.

1. When my son was sick, rather than care for him, the emergency room physician wasted time berating and arguing with me about nursing. Breast-feeding saved my son’s life. By the time they hydrated him and drew blood, they realised he was 2 hours away from renal failure due to severe dehydration. Breast-feeding kept him alive long enough for them to stop chatting about my feeding practices and do something.

2. My son wanted to nurse after another child at a Surestart baby group, grabbed his toy and pushed him over. Rather than chastise the baby-bully, the Surestart worker decided to say “Surely, you’re not still feeding him, are you?’ When I replied in the affirmative, She said, “but surely you know studies show there is no benefit after one year.” I invited her to visit UNICEF and the WHO web sites so that she could improve her level of service.

However - I am a rude person. I assert my right to care for my child in the best manner possible. I am aware of my human rights. I have been trained not to be a victim. I am in the minority of most women. As a unique and phenominal woman,

I urge you. I beg you. I invite you to greet your higher self with respect and dignity. Reconsider.

Sincerely,
Christina

(1) Tax, Meredith, The Power Of the Word: Culture, Censorship & Voice, Women’s World Publications, http://www.wworld.org/publications/powerword1/6gender.htm, 23/12/05

Breastfeeding - Call for Action to HE Community

I just received a letter from MP David Kidney asking that I write Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint. He is hoping to introduce legislation in early January which will make it an offence to prevent or stop a woman from feeding a child in a public place. His bill also calls for the Department of Health to do more to promote breastfeeding.

Flint's response to Kidney's attempt to enlist her support for the bill was that "evidence of obstruction for mums wanting to breastfeed in public places is "anecdotal." He is hoping a torrent of letters to Caroline Flint will help give her the "evidence" she needs.

Support for this first basic and simple right of a family to make choices in the best interests of our children affects all of us in the Home Education community. Learning begins at zero. Breastfeeding is one of the first "lessons" we teach our children - perfect nutrition, intimacy, and concerned care. (Please be aware I do support any choice a family makes in the best interest of their children - including not to breastfeed.)

I urge all of you to take action and write Caroline Flint MP at:
Minister for Public Health
Department of Health
Richmond House, 79
Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS

Debate is in early Janurary - so this is an urgent call for action!

More about David Kidney and breatsfeeding:
http://www.davidkidney.com/index.php?p=Breastfeeding

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Captive Water - Revision

(during Katrina)

1. Bom Jesus

In misty fountain spray
today, I will drink

green wine; observe
fat carp making themselves

dizzy for tourists
with fists of biscuits.

a seething golden school
slashing the surface.

we throw bread
when it amuses us,

like God.


2. Hampstead Heath

new coots
slice the water.
I am thirsty.

my throat believes
hope is a quivering stag
at the edge of glade

near a bottomless wishing well
too deep to reflect
my face. knowing

coins are not God’s
messengers, I throw
1 fat quid down the maw.

knowing I’m not getting
something crucial about
this antlered sunrise.


Note: This was my life while Katrina raged. Something is truly wrong with this poem. There is also third section which is still covered in warts. Maybe I'll post it once I've applied my acid and scapel. Any hints?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

jamaican lightning

for Thanos who wants to know what good is left in the world.

breath
light
adrenaline urgency
tingling
heart beats double
decker buses

making a baby laugh
milky breasts heavy
children sleeping in baby slings
fists twitching
walking

catching a stranger's eye
smiling
teeth sucking
eyes rolling
loud drunks snivelling
garbled bellows
until the child stirs

breath
public silence
watching reveries above heads riding trains
have a nice day
memory orange
bittersweet and tiny
white flowers in December

winking
pain lifting
moon shine on wet lips
dreaming time
familiar arms
fucking
mellow
or frantic
Jamaican lightning
snarled Pittsburgh snow
London rain breath
and one more
breath.

Monday, December 05, 2005

These Beautiful Beasts

red December roses
orange begonias, thick
fuchsia bushes dangling
purple pink bells. no signs

count down shopping
days to Christmas. they end
at 3:30. i understand
a nation of beasts tending
gardens, clutching the last fragile
petals in sleek claws,

wishing for a girl
to save them.


NOTE: Last night I broke my toe.  There were no ambulances available for "over an hour."  The minicabs had a 25 minute wait.  But, I finally got to the hospital.  At registration - a memo behind the nurse’s head announced that the Christmas pub crawl would begin at 7:00 on the 20th.

They x-rayed my foot.  Told me I'd broken my toe. Handed me a roll of tape and said "Go home.  Tape it up.  Keep it elevated for a week. It should heal - more or less straight - in a month."  When I looked at him like he was crazy, I was told, "We only set or splint bones broken 30 degrees or more. Besides it would hurt."

As if it didn't already?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

today’s heart

lighter than a glass fragment dislodged

from the hold of a sunken slave ship by a shark

in overfished waters dragged by net to this

grey cove. a shallow rustling freedom of

azure lucidity wrestling the sharp

corrosive salt tricking my edges clean

stealing my taste for blood.

so fragile hands.
pulse filled. soft so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Freewriting Again

because I tell my students to do it

serenity is the wrong colour of police lights
cosy, serene blue wailing crazy down the street.

Black men snuggling blondes
in a pub
even the White men don’t speak
English.

unseasonable weather
Katrina, Katrina, Katrina
unrecognisable siren.
is it death or healing singing

tonight?
two boy children zip past

my 8:30 table rocking
bedtime. where is
your mother? where am
I? now at this suckling hour,

my student waves at me from a bus.
it is the first time this has happened
here. waving happens to other people.
it is a thing from my past

where women dress all in black
and wear white shoes

confidant. uncaring.
startled and sad
I realise nobody
ever told an entire nation

of women, you are too old
to dress in this manner.

They are a constrained
frivolous group of random

garments
which mean nothing in context.

A middle age woman struts
in a lilac satin formal skirt
topped with a sporty cotton hoodie
as if

most women wake; greet
each of their individual body parts;
and invite them to decide
in what manner they will be less offended today.

the hips want sweat
pants. breasts desire
silk black camisole.
feet demand sandals -
birkenstocks specifically -
imagine.

allowing your body
this level of control.
what havoc would ensue?
but tea always happens

and biscuits are served
with vicious politeness.

a man on a cell steps outside of the pub
to walk in circles
“i’ll be there, yeah, i’ll be there
cheers mate, cheers.”

blue is the Holy Mother’s colour
why is it screaming,
chasing, trying
to bring gunfire

to a firearm
free nation

which has no choice but to shoot
offenders now. my heart.
Would you tell me? offer it
as sashimi? yes i agree,

the rice feels like too much
of an accessory -
like these women
who use a blue strip of sequins

for a scarf on cloudy days.
these things after all

connote choice.

Rest

after a long day
working. we touch

every five minutes.
he watches me

pee, shadows
me through

this den. at night,
we are animals

snorting, mammals
heaped in a labyrinth.

slumbering limbs
twitching, breathing

synchronous hearts
and farts marking

this room we share.
his warmth breath

chills my wet nipple.
having just slid

from his mouth.
the clutching

other hand
fondles

my breast.
dreams. peace

without teeth.
but warm

milk
begins.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Fourth Class

at CityLit

1. Housekeeping
A. Internet
1. We are trying to resolve the issue of the listserve.
2. Exceptionally good facilities are available in the CityLit Support Centre on the Mezzanine Level of the building. You can use the internet, access email, type assignments and print. (I think printing costs 5p.) Additional free internet access can be found at your local public library.

2. Listening Exercise
Task: We listened to three spoken word pieces by Austin, Texas writer, Ernie Cline.

Goal: Gain a greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Introduce to you to skills used by modern professional writers. Recognise both fictional and poetic techniques.

Material Presented / Discussed:

A. The three tracks from his CD, entitled Ultraman Is Airwolf, “Pick Six,” “Curriculum Vitae” and “Tech Support” all dealt with issues ‘average people” experience everyday.
1. His characters do and say things many people wish they themselves can do or say.
2. His characters validate feelings we have all experienced.
3. He transforms the day-to-day requirements of survival (job interviews, working and methods of coping) into an exciting, funny self-affirming story.
4. He employs the device of comedy.
5. His work clearly demonstrates that our material is all around us.
6. More of Ernie’s work can be heard at:
http://www.ernestcline.com/spoken word/

B. Storytelling and poetry began as a spoken art. Eventually, humans developed systems to document and preserve these stories and poems. Using clay tablets, stone, papyrus - whatever was at hand - they began to capture language. Once the word was captured, they began to develop systems and rules about how words “should” be used. At first, the stories and poems which were preserved were luxury items available only to a few. The idea of “the plot,” or “the tragedy or comedy,” “poetic form,” “rhyme schemes” began to surface. With the invention of the printing press, the word was elevated to a stagnant, contained set of rituals performed by an intellectual elite for a worthy audience. It was separated from its origin as a fluid, living sound object . Still - the art of storytelling - lived on in the form of bards, minstrels, travelling players, or griots. Quickly changing technology eventually made stories available to all people. This is largely due in part to the fact that since the beginning of time - human beings have always needed people who can use words to help them better understand the world around them and the people in it. As a result, we are left with a myriad of options available to us as modern writers. There are thousands of rules, systems, beliefs and attitudes about how a story or a poem works best. Ultimately, we must find our own voice and way for ourselves. our own voice. Being true to our hearts is the best way to write.

C. Ernie Cline began his career in the poetry slam.
1. A poetry slam is a competition of performance poetry invented by Chicago poet, Marc Smith in 1990. It was created in response to the way in which poetry had become largely inaccessible to “the common man.”
2. Slam poetry is a movement which is growing internationally. Every year, in the United States, the National Poetry Slam is held. Cities from the United States and Canada (and this year France) send teams of 3 poets to compete.
3. At a poetry slam, anybody is allowed to sign up to read a poem. They have 3 minutes to perform an original poem of their own creation. They must not use props, costumes, pre-recorded music or instruments. Five judges are selected randomly from the audience. These judges rate the poems on a scale of 1 to 10 using decimal points.
4. In its 15 year history, a several “slam forms” have begun to emerge. (We will discuss these “slam forms” in future classes.) However, past slam champions have used poetic forms such as villanelle and sestinas. This is less common today. For awhile - the National Poetry Slam also sponsored a Haiku Slam during the national competition.
5. More information about poetry slams can be found at:
http://www.poetryslam.com
http://slampapi.com
The Idiot’s Guide To Slam Poetry by Marc Smith, Alpha Books
Poetry Slam, edited by Gary Glazner, Manic D Press

3. Homework Discussion
Task: On a slips of paper, everyone in the class completed the following phrase:

People would be surprised to know that I.......

We traded slips. We wrote about “the surprising thing” as if you are that person. You must use the first person and you must use dialogue.

(Many thanks to Helena Blackmore at University Of East London for teaching me how to turn party games into writing exercises.)

Goal: Use the skills necessary to think and write creatively. Gain a greater understanding of the devices used by writers. Loosen the imagination. Recognise and practice fictional techniques. Respond to and assess pieces of of writing with sensitivity. Practice new writing skills.

Material Presented:
A. Everyone who had received the assignment and completed it read their work. We discussed the work as a group. Then, the person whose “secret” had been “taken.” spoke about whether or not the piece was accurate to them and/or how it felt to have their ‘secret” stolen. Thanks for the truly exceptional pieces prepared. More importantly, thanks to everyone for giving their classmates such great material with which to work!!!!

B. Using the first person helped to free the imagination. It served as a way of getting closer to the character because, in some manner, the writer had “to become” this person. In becoming this person, the writer had to discover some level of empathy and understanding for someone completely different than themselves. It forces us to move past stereotypes and assumptions about people who are “not like us.” It opened a door to our shared experience as human beings.

C. It is okay to take other people’s stories. Everything a writer experiences, stumbles past, or witnesses is fair game. We don’t have to write from our own experience all of the time - nor do we have to have directly experienced an event to take it and make it our own.

D. Stealing facts allows you to disengage from yourself and your own perspective and move into another person’s reality. Anything can happen because there is “no real story” which is confined or constrained by your own intellectualised version of a memory. This frees the imagination to go new places.

E. Research helps a character become more believable. But - it need not constrain or limit a piece. You don’t have to communicate every single boring detail about for example: someone’s profession. These details can be used to help structure a clear picture of why the character does what he does in the context of the larger story.

F. There is never one audience. No one likes “everything.” You can not speak to all people.

G. Everyone has a deep and meaningful story. Dig deep and then deeper.

H. If you want your story to be told the “right way,” you’d better do it yourself.


Final Thoughts:

1. August Wilson (1945 - 2005)
African-American playwright and winner of a Tony Award and two Pulitzer Prizes died last week. He was an exceptional, generous, gentle and funny man.

Wilson grew up in The Hill District section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (My hometown.) In his youth, The Hill District was a thriving, self-contained Black community. It became famous for having exquisite jazz clubs. Every jazz and blues singer back in the day passed through Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is uniquely situated as a pass through point for New York, Philadelphia Washington, D.C., and Chicago. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, the City Of Pittsburgh exercised eminent domain in a fit of “urban renewal” and razed the business district in order to erect a stadium called the “Civic Arena.” It put many Black-owned businesses, night clubs and cultural centres out of business. Since this happened simultaneously with desegregation, many of the Hill district’s professional Black families moved to “better neighbourhoods.”

Wilson is the only person to have received a high school diploma from the Carnegie Library. He dropped out and educated himself after being accused of plagiarism at Gladstone High School. He was accused of this because the paper he turned in ‘couldn’t have been written by an African-American.”

Wilson went on to change the face of American theatre. He is the only African-American playwright to consistently be produced in theatres run by and primarily attended by Whites. His plays gave consistent opportunities for employment for Black actors. He is most famous for ‘The Pittsburgh Cycle,” - ten plays set in each decade of the 20th Century and the one play which made it to the screen, The Piano Lesson. (Of “The Pittsburgh Cycle,” Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one set outside of Pittsburgh and takes place in a recording studio in Chicago.) The Pittsburgh Cycle took him 20 years to write. He only completed the last play, Radio Golf, shortly before his death. Finally, he was generous with both his time and money to emerging Black voices. He was a generous supporter of Cave Canem (http://cavecanempoets.org) and requested this organization be a recipient of donations in lieu of flowers.

There are numerous funny tales about August Wilson the young writer. One that stands out - in relation to our homework - is that Wilson carried a notebook around with him everywhere he went. He wrote down everything he heard in barber shops, cafes, clubs, street corners. He was recording dialogue. Years later as we look at his plays, we begin to understand why he was a master playwright. The time he spent learning - the nuances of human speech, how everyday conversations tell a story, the special individual ways people twist and turn phrases - earned him a distinct place of honour in the theatrical world.

What many people don’t know is that Wilson always wanted to be a .....poet.

2. When I was a child, there was a toy which was a thin piece of multicoloured paper wrapped around and glued to a wooden stick. Your story is like that toy.

You must pick up that bit of stick and paper and begin running. The paper unfurls and streams out behind you in a twisting, thrilling flash of colour. You run and run and run until the paper falls off.

That’s stepping away. That’s grabbing a story and letting it go.


Homework

A. You were given the following reading material from Extreme Exposure: Solo Performance Texts From the 20th Century, by Jo Bonney.

1. Laurie Anderson, “New York Social Life,” from United States.
2. John O’Keefe, excerpt from “Shimmer”
3. Anna Deavere Smith, “Elvira Evers...To Look Like Girls From Little” from Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

B. Writing Assignment
1. Choose a person about whom you have very strong feelings. (An ex-lover, a teacher, a family member, a child, a former boss, a friend with whom you no longer speak.)

2. Pick a distinct and clear memory which is charged with conflict, an obstacle, or a miscommunication.

3. You are now no longer you. The person is no longer that specific person. Changing some of the circumstances and true details....

4. and using only dialogue, write a conversation between these two people.
Who are they?
What is the relationship between the people in this scene?
What kind of history do they have together?
What do they want from each other?
Who should the reader empathise with?
5. Set the “scene.”
Where are they?
What is the weather like outside?
Is anyone else watching them?
6. Build on the scene.
How did they come to be in this situation?
How are they going to get what they want?
What is in each person’s way?
Why should they get what they want?
7. Escalate the “drama.”
What are they doing to prevent each other from getting their way?
How can they resolve the situation?
What happens?
What is going on with their bodies?
What are their emotions?
How does this show?
What is the weather like outside?
8. Find a resolution.
How do they leave this situation?
What did they learn?
Why is it important?
What are they both looking forward to next?

You may insert one line descriptions between the dialogue such as: “They rush towards each other.” or “Thunder sounds in the distance.” The answers to the above questions may be answered through dialogue or may implied in the conversation. Tip: eavesdrop on people over the next week to discover how much conversation reveals and doesn’t reveal.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Third Class

At CityLit

1. Begin IT! The Writer’s Ritual, A Reminder
A. Get a notebook.
B. Writers who succeed are writers with discipline. Write in it everyday - discipline.
C. Try writing at different times of day. This way you will find the best time for you.
D. Make a place for yourself to write. If you write in the same place and it is always ready for you...it makes it easier to find the words. You build energy there and train your mind that this is the place where you make words.
E. Find a place to post your positive statement. (On your notebook. On the bathroom mirror. Anywhere you will see it regularly.)

2. Discussion
A. By the time we leave this class, I want everyone to have been launched on a personal odyssey towards their voice as well as a have project to go with it. This way the class will live on after it is finished. Make sure I see your work. It will help me to help you find your voice.

B. I’ve been hearing a desire to know more about different forms of creative writing. Such as, “what is a poem?” and “what is “creative non-fiction?” These haven’t been introduced because I’m hoping you will not begin to label your work. I don’t want you to put your words “in boxes” at the moment.

I’ve been hearing the yearning for publication. Well, the writers who are breaking down the ever-dwindling publishing doors are not the ones who do what everyone else does. These are the people who have the brass, the audacity and the courage to let their story make its own rules. Or the ones who are publishing follow the rules so perfectly that you forget what they are.

So much for boxes. We will still look at them - it’s always good to know the rules before you break them.

3. Homework
Reading Review
Task: You were given three poems about difficult subject matter and an interview with a modern poet.

Goals: Gain a greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Introduce to you to skills used by modern professional writers. Respond to and assess pieces of writing, Recognise poetic techniques. Enter into the mindset of successful modern authors.

Material Presented/Discussed:
A. Poetry (Terms and forms we discussed.) Find more on detail on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry All quoted references are from this source.
A. A stanza is “unit with the larger poem. A stanza can be a certain number of lines, have a particular rhyme scheme or as in much modern poetry, may be an arbitrary unit defined by publishing conventions such as white space or punctuation.”
B. A couplet is two lines which form a stanza.
C A triplet is three lines which form a stanza.
D. A quatrain is “four lines of poetry which form a stanza. Most common of all stanza forms in English.”
E. A haiku is a Japanese form which is made up of 17 syllables. The first line has 5 syllables. The second line has 7 syllables. The third (and last line) has 5 syllables. Although modern haiku in English have made significant changes to this form, it is commonly agreed that: a special seasonal word is used; addresses a simple subject and provides the reader with some profound epiphany.
F. There are many different forms of sonnets. It is “a poem of 14 lines which follows a very strict rhyme scheme.” In English writing of sonnets, the lines are written in iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet varies from the Italian sonnet both in structure of stanzas and rhyme scheme. It is the opinion of this writing instructor that, the Italian Sonnet has a much more exciting rhyme scheme, but less exciting structure.
G. An elegy “is a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegos, a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally. The English word "eulogy" is derived from it. In addition, an elegy (sometimes spelled elegĂ­e) may be a type of musical work, usually in a sad and somber attitude.(1) ”
H. Gigan - see weekly review 2
I. Villanelle - see weekly review 2

B. Poets do not have to write in form. It is not mandatory. However, at some point, many poets choose to write in form for a variety of reasons. It is an exciting and challenging “word game,” It hones skills. It demonstrates a certain level of mastery.

C. Form can serve many purposes.
1. According to the interview with Patricia Johnson, she chose the form of a villanelle “to place parameters and to force myself into a discipline. There would be no room to get carried away with rhetoric.(2) ”
2. Ruth Kocher used form to contain her grief because she has “never been able to really confront and accept her death(3) ” The use of her gigan form allowed her to make a poem which had multiple layers of meaning. For example: she was able to use the gigan to create a culturally relevant elegy in that she portrayed a dead jazz singer in the tradition of the New Orleans jazz funeral. The final couplet about the bird singing gave an additional revelation about music being eternal and unstoppable.
3. Form is just another tool that a creative writer can put in their “writer’s tool box.” If job calls for a hammer and you only have screwdrivers, then you can’t finish the job.
4. Form places external restraints on the writer. It gives the project clear and distinct boundaries. It can distract a writer and invite deeper insights. It can loosen preconceived ideas about the subject matter, thereby allowing the writer to go in new, previously unthought of directions.

Writing Review
Task: Choose an object which you use all of the time. the more common and bland the better. Examples, toilet tissue, diapers, toothbrush, sanitary napkins, tea bags.
A. Who made this item?
1. Are they married, single, divorced?
2. Are they young or old?
3. Do they have children?
4. What is their favourite colour?
5. What do they like to do after work?
6. Do they have any hobbies?
B. What are they feeling when they make this item?
C. Where are they?
D. What does it look and sound like there?
E. Do they ever think about you - the user?
F. What do they think about you?

Goals: Use the skills necessary to think and write creatively. Gain a greater understanding of the devices used by writers. Loosen the imagination. Recognise and practice fictional techniques. Respond to and assess pieces of of writing with sensitivity. Practice new writing skills.

Material Presented:
1. In a fictional story, the writer:
invents a character or characters;
places them in setting;
creates for the reader a “snapshot” of the character’s life;
develops the story to it’s climax (point of highest tension or drama); and
creates resolution.
2. Everything is your material. As we saw from many of the pieces, the main character evolved out of people or experience’s in the writer’s past or present.
3. Even the most mundane and ordinary thing has a story attached to it. Writers find stories in everything they touch..
3. A writer can take a personal experience and transform it into a work of fiction. Even if these “facts” are no longer recognisable, they help create a believable character.
4. If the writer is writing about an unfamiliar subject, sometimes, research is required. This helps give the story depth.
5. In order to create a believable character, we must include detail.


4. Things to think about:
A. Boring people do not always live boring lives. Seek the extraordinary in ordinary people.
B. Good writers strive to develop empathy. This allows them to create characters which are full and real rather than flat and two dimensional.
C. Finding forgiveness and the ability set aside judgement leads to interesting characters with whom a reader wants to spend time.
D. Celebrate human frailty. Use it as a tool for character development.
E. When creating characters, remember that readers read for many reasons including:
* to better understand the people in the world around them;
* to escape from their ordinary lives;
* to see things in new ways;
* to become someone else for a short time.

5. Homework
On a slip of paper, Complete the following phrase:

People would be surprised to know that I.......

Trade slips. Write about the surprising thing as if you are that person. You must use the first person and you must use dialogue.

-------Footnotes
1. All of the quotes above the footnote are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry
2. “Witness, Testify, Recall: A Conversation With Patricia Johnson,” from Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry by Felicia Mitchell, University of Tennessee Press, 2002
3. http://aboutaword.blogspot.com/2005/06/gigan-for-queen-bee.html

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Second Class

at CityLit

Ways Into Creative Writing
30/09/2005 Review

COMPLETED IN CLASS

Discussion:
Weekly Review Sheets
The weekly review will provide you with:
a document of the class,
a road map of the adventure;
and a future reference guide (perhaps you may be blocked one day and go back and repeat the exercises on your own.)

Organisational Skills:
I encourage everyone to get a binder. In this binder or folder, I hope you will put all of the materials from this class, your exercises, your writings. I would like for each of you to have a detailed record of this journey. Last week, in another class, poet and novelist, Martina Evans said, “time is the best editor.” And I couldn’t have found a more succinct way of stating this truth. So, remember, “Time is the best editor.

Communication:
We reviewed and ratified (on a temporary basis) the Class Contract.

We have also set up an email list to which class members may send their work. This email list allows people to spend time with the work before coming to class. It helps offset copying expenses, by making each member of the class who needs or wants a physical copy responsible for their own participation.

Discipline:
A creative writer is a person actively engaged in the process of understanding and making sense out of our world and the people in it. We are constantly changing. Everyday, we have new insights and new understandings. We also are blessed with the occasional epiphany, or the “Aha!” for which we have been seeking.

I encourage everyone to get a journal and to begin writing everyday. Through daily writing - even stream of consciousness or free writing - you will open yourself to the discipline necessary involved with being a creative writer. Even if you write, “I do not feel like writing today.” You will have accomplished the act of writing. Most importantly, you will have turned a negative idea into a positive one. Even though you did not feel like writing, you wrote.



Exercise 1 -
Leaving Judgement At the Door
Task - This exercise is not for sharing. Be free to be honest with yourself.
1. Take a negative statement you think often about your writing.
2. Now, transform it into a positive statement or promise to yourself.

Examples:
“My writing just doesn’t seem to work.” becomes “The work I’m doing now will make me a better writer.”

“Nobody likes my writing.” becomes “The people who like my writing are waiting to find me.”

Goals: Use language creatively. Encourage yourself as a writer. Honour your potential and strengths. Think creatively and experiment with language. Experience the power of language.

Material Presented:
1. We must encourage ourselves to reach our goals.
2. We have the power to manipulate language to serve our own distinct purposes.
3. By removing emotional roadblocks to writing, we become better writers.

Exercise 2 -
Adrienne Kennedy / Homework / Reading Out
Task: You were given a small excerpt from Adrienne Kennedy’s autobiography, “People Who Lead To My Plays” In the style of Adrienne Kennedy, write about 3 people who will lead you to your voice.

Goals: Examine literature as a living and dynamic form. Gain greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Loosen the individual’s voice. Use language creatively. Promote writing confidence. Increase your ability to take risks.

Material Presented:
1. Writers simultaneously observe and participate in life.
2. Everything is your material.
3. Through distance from our subject matter, we can become more aware of the nuances in a story and/or the meaning in everything.
4. Even the most trivial, childish or juvenile things can have a have a deeper more powerful meaning.
5. The way in which we structure a narrative can draw a reader in or push them away.

Thank you for your lush, evocative pieces! Well done!

Homework
Writing Exercise -
Choose an object which you use all of the time. The more common and bland the better. Examples, toilet tissue, diapers, toothbrush, sanitary napkins, tea bags.
A. Who made this item?
1. Are they married, single, divorced?
2. Are they young or old?
3. Do they have children?
4. What is their favourite colour?
5. What do they like to do after work?
6. Do they have any hobbies?
B. What are they feeling when they make this item?
C. Where are they?
D. What does it look and sound like there?
E. Do they ever think about you - the user?
F. What do they think about you?

Write what you know. Learn about what you don’t know. Practise empathy - it will lead you to the creation of more believable characters.

Reading -
1. Ruth Ellen Kocher, “Gigan For Queen Bee”
A gigan is a new poetic form invented by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Its 16 lines consist of:
1. couplet, triplet, couplet, couplet, triplet, couplet
2. line one repeats as line eleven
3. line six repeats as line 12
4. last couplet turns the subject askew
5. Find more at: http://aboutaword.blogspot.com
Notice: The way the poem is an elegy without being an elegy. Notice the way she turns an elegy into a celebration of life. If we hadn’t had the explanation, What do we know about Queen Bee? What did she look like? What did she do? How do you know this? Finally - in what way does she turn the subject askew?

2. “Witness, Testify, Recall: A Conversation With Patricia Johnson,” from Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry by Felicia Mitchell, University of Tennessee Press, 2002

You’ve been given two of the poems discussed in this interview. One of the poems is in the form of a villanelle. The other is free verse. What happened in both of these poems? How did the author use distance and foreshadowing to deal with extremely difficult personal subject matter? How did the author use distance and poetic form to control the horrific subject matter?

For your information and from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle, a villanelle is:

“The standard villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines each rhyming a-b-a and a sixth stanza of four lines rhyming a-b-a-a, giving a total of nineteen lines. The first line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas two, four, and six. The third line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas three and five and as the fourth line of the sixth stanza. The result can be illustrated by the following schematic representation:
Line one (A1)* Line two (b) Line three (A2)*

Line four (A2) Line five (b) Line one (A1)

Line six (A1) Line seven (b) Line three (A2)

Line eight (A2) Line nine (b) Line one (A1)

Line ten (A1) Line eleven (b) Line three (A2)

Line twelve (A2) Line thirteen (b) Line one (A1) Line three (A2)

This is otherwise known as entering poetic hell.

Final Thoughts:
1. Be engaged with your world.
2. Be a part of it.
3. Be curious about every single detail around you.
4. Observe others. Learn to listen to their stories.
5. Free your imagination to transform everything around you into something moving, poignant and significant.

Not Specifically Addressed:
Begin the writer’s ritual.
1. Get a notebook.
2. Writers who succeed are writers with discipline. Write in it everyday - discipline.
3. Try writing at different times of day. This way you will find the best time for you.
4. Make a place for yourself to write. If you write in the same place and it is always ready for you...it makes it easier to find the words. You build energy there and train your mind that this is the place where you make words.
5. Find a place to post your positive statement. (On your notebook. On the bathroom mirror. Anywhere you will see it regularly.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Our Class Contract

Below is the contract my two classes struggled to find by discussing their hopes and fears. I have two awesome groups of people with whom I am lucky enough to serve as a guide on their journey to their own voice.

Class Contract
We would like criticism to be constructive. We would like to think that we can support each other and help each other grow as writers.

For these reasons, we will all to agree that:

1. We will leave judgement at the door of this classroom. We recognise that everyone has a right to their opinion and should be free to express that opinion to the best of their ability. “If we silence one of us, then we have silenced ourselves.”

2. We will focus our comments on craft rather than content.

3. The work being presented to this group is a work-in-progress. If it’s a masterpiece, then it doesn’t belong here, it belongs in a submissions pile somewhere.

4. We will treat each other gently and with respect.

5. We will be honest with each other, but we will find ways of doing it which help, support and stimulate reflection.

6. We will be specific with our comments rather than general. We will try to use the following phrases to discuss each other’s work.

A. What worked for me is.....
the meter
the rhythm
this character interested me
the description of the setting
these phrases or word combinations.

B. The place where I became very engaged with this piece was...

C. Help me understand why you chose or why you need...
this word or phrase.
this paragraph here.
to break your line here rather than here.
this character to do or not do X, Y, Z
anything else you don’t understand.
D. I am unclear
about the setting of the piece,
about your character’s motivation for doing X
the intent of the poem
about what you are trying to communicate.
anything else which makes you ask questions.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Without Intent - We Still

Abandon Those We Love
thanks Deena and Imani

They don’t own me,
much as we’ve both paid,

the tally never balances.
Scales overflowing

heaped
high
grumbling

but always short of that
demarcation hatch proclaiming

even. In this time,
of sushi hearts

we still find
nothing more
to say than i love you

and I’m off. Postcard
perfect, snap

shots reducing
one billion emotions

like salt trying
to remain an individual
in the context of ocean.


NOTE: Friends have offered to help offset the expense of flying home to be with Imani. I've been trying to work this through - so much of me feels as if I can't accept this generous offer. Feeling as if I am some sort of charity case. I'm teaching. Norman is working. We should be just fabulous. But - tight. Tighter and tighter it seems to be. I'm always the one raising money for someone else. And when it comes to it - I have a knack for pulling money out of thin air. I've always excelled in this. So - I believe I resist this love energy being put forth on my behalf in order to maintain some convuluted idea of self.

Teaching creative writing again has invited me to review my source material. And once past fairy tales, science fiction, evil teachers, and my nasty nanny, I am left pondering...

“Who are these people who have lead to my poems? In response, I finger the biographies of my grandmother. “MAIDA SPRINGER: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader” by Yevette Richards, University Of Pittsburgh Press and “CONVERSATIONS WITH MAIDA SPRINGER:A Personal History of Labor, Race, and International Relations” also byYevette Richards from University of Pittsburgh Press.

But, looking for myself, I suddenly realise how we all donned gloves to handle our lives together. We were so busy containing ourselves to be perfect threads on “the loom of history” we forgot.

My brother and I are in neither of those books. We did not play the family drum well enough to be included. We exist for those who have long enough memories to include us. My career as an artist made it harder to write me out. But, they manage. She spoke about this once, tired, frail and tubes slipping in and out of her body. "Your Mother is such a private person. I have always tried my best to respect that." Her hand sstroking the book about her life she was about to hand to me.

Now, my daughter is across the Atlantic ocean. She is pulling her life together after having a stroke. And we are here. Stuck. Separated. Mired in our belief that the Universe had a plan for us.

Where is my family? Most carefully and conscientiously executing their retirement dreams now that my Grandmother has had the good taste to finally die. (This being my mother’s perception of the way Maida took forever before letting her be a true and unencumbered snowbird. You have to understand. My mother’s mother had the good form to go quickly and suddenly. She held her secrets in her blood until she exploded. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly.). Not Dad’s Mum, she stayed and made us laugh and attend book parties, change her diapers and showed us the dignity of the flawed and failing human body.

Inconvienece is a legacy also. Maida would rather dehydrate than get a nurse (who was on her hard won break) to bring her ice chips-----days before she died. On one side of the family, inconvienceing others can not be tolerated. And on the other side, as well.

So, I find myself stiffening my collar and saying, “No, thank you, we’ll work it out.” When I mean, “Mama? Mama? Are you there? Where are you? Help me, please? I know you are tired. I’ve needed so much, but, do you have it in you to hold me? It is so dark here!”

So - maybe - yes - we need help becoming more than this self-sacrificing legacy of women worthy of books written in our name.

Answer To An Offer For Help

So many grains of rice slipping off of the plate.
Trying to tidy up now. Feeling pretty slovenly.

Back a few weeks/months/years ago
friends offered to help me get home for Imani.

At the time, I was scrambling.
Imani out of school meant pounds flying
out of the never enough - into the greater need.

Well - I've landed not one but two teaching positions.
University Of East London and City Lit.

Since getting the jobs, Norman and I have been in a mad
scramble to try to make it work for Winston.

The past two weeks have flattened me. My only bit
of pavement unfolds beneath my feet when I realise
we will eventually have extra cash

to send home for Imani.
Winston suffers daily from the transition.

But, the minder is a good woman with kids,
so he can be mostly happy. The ends here

keep getting clipped by fate and circumstance.
Never enough, bankrupted from the summer of fun
turned nightmare stroke. And fallout.

Between frugality, waste and friendship there is
knowing. As unsettled and worse

longing echoes from the hills. Ravens keep
crossing my path. My hatred of them wills flight.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This Bloody Stroke

I keep returning to the fact that
there is a part of my daughter that I hate.
And this bit of her is me.

Her blood, my blood, her father's blood
our ancestor's blood that congeals
in her head. All this pride and tragedy

clumping into small gangs of potential
killers. All this glorification
of slave rebellions, maroons,

silent night creepers stealing
freedom. Union
organizers, civil

rights activists, feminist
icons. Now
and then, the occasional

lust-filled sneaky master,
golden-eyed conquistadors,
Caribs. And Scottish Judge Hackett -

8 Carrington babies with Luscious
followed by 8 Hacketts -
all Luscious born and juicy

scraps of waist expanding morsels.
I would wish her long enough
to offer this blood to another

and pray it brings no unity.

The First Class

at City Lit on Friday

Teaching is the performance

of a work that you never want
your audience to forget,
for in these dear moments

you give away all of your secrets.

+ + +

for all you lit buffs - this is what we did

Course Tutor: Christina Springer
CityLit Course No: 5HW109
Ways Into Creative Writing

23/09/2005 Review

IN CLASS EXERCISES COMPLETED

Exercise 1 - Introduction / Self Assessment

Task: You were asked to answer the following request or questions.

1. Use a colour to tell us why you are taking this course.
2. What is the sound of what you are feeling right now?
3. What does your current writing smell like?
4. What taste do you hope your writing will have?
5. What texture do you hope writing will bring to your life?

Goal: Recognise and practise poetic techniques. Experiment with using language creatively. Loosen the imagination. Increase your ability to take risks. Experience yourself as a writer with your potential and strengths.

Material Presented:
1. One of the most important steps in becoming a proficient creative writer is to learn how to create distance between yourself and your subject matter. Whether you will be writing poems, fiction, autobiographical sketches, theatrical pieces or creative non-fiction, you - the writer - will have to learn where *you* end and the piece of work begins.
2. Within a piece of writing, each and every single word is important. Every word has meaning to a reader and should not be wasted. Each word should contribute to the advancement of piece as a whole. This exercise demonstrated how powerful well-chosen words can be.
3. In the context of the exercise, we learned how concrete simple images could reveal so much to our reader.
4. The exercise demonstrated how we are able to reveal information about ourselves without giving a lot of personal detail.
5. We learned how powerful words can be when they engage all of the five senses.

Exercise 2 - Postcards From Outer Space

Task: Assume that space travel is possible. Assume we have explored the universe and have found life, civilisations and cultures. Send a postcard home from anywhere in the known or unknown universe.

Goal: Recognise and practise fictional techniques. Loosen the imagination. Move away from preconceived ideas. Increase your ability to take risks.

Material presented:
1. Creative writers should be able to make the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary mundane.
2. We strengthen our writing skills by giving our brain a creativity workout.
3. Successful writers engage the reader’s imagination by authentically communicating the human condition - regardless of the setting in which we place our characters.
4. Writers can use distance - physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual - to free their words from pre-established patterns, flex the muscles of their imagination and revise their attitudes to our shared reality.


Exercise 3: Still Life with Found Objects

Task: 1. Describe the still life i have placed in front of you. Do it in a way that lets the reader see what you see.
2. Make a story out of the objects. Hints: What happened before you saw the objects. What will happen five minutes after you no longer see the objects. Who touched these objects and why? Where are these objects? What significance to these objects have to others? be free to go wherever your mind takes you.

Goal: Recognise and practise poetic and fictional techniques. Experiment with using language creatively. Loosen the imagination. Experience yourself as a writer with your potential and strengths.

Material Presented:
1. Everyone sees things differently. As writer’s we need to begin to understand how our perception influences the way in which we work. And we must open ourselves to understanding the way others percieve the same subject matter.
2. It is important to step away from our normal thought processes, in order to give our subject matter depth and meaning.
3. Make the ordinary extraordinary.
4. Combining detail, description and imagination can turn garbage and dirty dishes into a moving piece of work.

Final Thoughts:

1. We must control words rather than allow words to control us.
2. We must not fear writing rubbish. Bad writing exists because of lack of discipline. A writer writes and rewrites, again and again and again until they have a finished work.
4. Move away from established writing patterns and comfort zones. This will strengthen your ability to think, act and behave like a the creative writer you are and wish to become.
5. Our “material” is all around us. Everything from garbage and dirty dishes can be transformed into a literary masterpiece.
6. Begin to train yourself to really look at people, things, places and EXPERIENCE them to their fullest.

Homework

You were given a small excerpt from Adrienne Kennedy’s autobiography, “People Who Lead To My Plays” In the style of Adrienne Kennedy, write about 3 people who will lead you to your voice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Stroke

a steady turbulence has always been
part of her being. in this corporeal

place. a soul however
thunderous turgid roiling

must

hold its shape.
thick blood and head

circle each other
this dominance game

within.

both of us
struggling for air

to cool
our inner secret parts.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Back

Bitch slap
one, two

gentle kiss
three and four

knee to the groin
five, six

cool hair washing
seven and eight

too many of her own creations
this universal energy imitates


+ + +

It has been over a month.

My computer died.
My firstborn returned to the States
and had a minor stroke.

My second born was having "spells"
(what looked like mini-seizures
but were able to be interrupted.)

Katrina embarassed me.
An American jangle clanging
helplessness. Begging for internet

access. I was suddenly blessed
to teach at The University Of East London
in what I think is

the most revolutionary writing program in the world.

My son found a spiritual home in Braga
(and hasn't had a spell since.)

Gently, carefully, lulling and dulling
the razor blades on my heart and soul.

More later beloveds.
Those of you who stayed tuned...thank you.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Coming Back To Understanding Hijab On Infants

thanks Jaxblunt and Karen for helping me begin to work this through

I think it begins with a wild
picture of ourselves. long ago -
memory - unfettered innocence
winnowed............sharpened
to guarded blades. dark,

billowing armor. we give our best
weapons to our children.
rummage about for what is
at hand. expedient.
tools we understand.

my boy. my self.
my man. my girl.
desire. repulse.
hold dear this precious
hard won wisdom.

model our wishes
and praise. goslings lined
up. neat. so much fluff and fat,
a waddling toddling
tasty warm comfort.
the hunter sights

we hear him behind every bush.
we never let him shoot.

My Son - The Teacher

There is sun again. But, we are learning
to live without its daily dazzle.
Puddles. Drizzles open new discussions
for knowledge to come seeping into our lives.

Slowly we return inward
to practice our quiet
dance of discovering
the world. The eldest
has returned to The States

and she will be chasing education
as we amble along waiting for our
opportunities. He misses her.
It is another thing to learn -

how we are sunrises and sunsets
coming and coming again.
The blackberries grow riper
each week. We marvel
how what once were
flowers are now fruit.

We've returned
to our old haunts.
Abney Park Cemetery,
Haggerston Park with our pond
and farm. Today,

we didn't hurry down the street.
We stopped at every plate
to look at the letters and numbers.
He wants to do more "by self"
everyday. He pushes me farther away.
I ease deeper into observation
as he informs me what all of the markings are.
Questions are exciting.
We are beginning to have

conversations. Complex. Arrows
are fascinating symbols.
Wheelchair icons as well.
We have something fresh
to talk about. Numbers and letters
are old now. But, we are not quite ready

to read. I am beginning to put together
his clues and hints. Value
his inner sense. Allow him
to lead me deeper into this
frightening thick miasma
of autonomy. Draining dry
this exhilarating brilliant freedom
of learning rather than teaching.




Note: Today was a day of epiphanies. My brash American personality got me put on "moderated" status on an email list. While this first saddened me, I moved past that emotion to feeling somewhat vexed and finally into a place of peaceful acceptance.

While Winston and I meandered the streets of sunny London today, I realized that at first I was saddened because I wanted to connect with like-minded people. I was also saddened to have been so drastically misunderstood. This passed as I accepted the fact that I can not sit with someone while they read my email and answer questions. And I am not responsible for someone's misreading. Nor am I responsible for telling them to ask questions.

Then I noticed - to quote myself from a post to the same list - "It is a good thing to be rubbed up the wrong way. It means there is something deep within oneself which is still calling to be noticed, recognized and dismissed." And I began to understand that I needed to look at this feeling. So, I let my opinions of the group's moderator and several alpha females slide away. I stood with the idea of being angry at a bunch of strangers for a moment. And I began to see how silly this was.

I was angry because I had been sad. Again - I can not make people understand me. But - more importantly - if someone wants to be where they are - then they will be there no matter how much you invite them to see things from a new perspective. And they have a choice to not see things in an manner they choose. And I can respect that - no need to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise...move on.

And over me came that peaceful acceptance. I understood now - finally - that I had been holding onto an idea that we shared common ground. But, people share common ground all the time in the most literal sense and they don't even notice the person next to them. Just because someone home educates does not mean they have a deep and abiding commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. Not everyone feels supported by engaging in constructive dialog. More people would rather resist change than embrace it. More likely, people will go out of their way to avoid trying new things and thinking new thoughts. And finally - not all people have done the inner work necessary to step back from an issue and see that everything isn't personal - even during discussions regarding our deepest, most vulnerable hopes and fears - the well-being of our children and this world which often doesn't have their best interests at heart.

And I can accept that - in spite of the fact that some of the best support I've ever had was from people who disagreed with me, carried on a hearty debate or just plain gave me their thoughts with no apologies.

What I have come to learn - over time - is that if something is a "truth" for an individual then that is what it is. If it not my "truth," I shrug my shoulders and move on. We connect. We don't connect. And it is the connection with people of exceptional quality that has taught me sometimes teaching is learning and vice versa. But, most times, it is those exceptional people who are able to allow their 'truths" to overlap, merge and become singular again.

Thanks Cave Canem, Highland Park Playgroup, Usual Suspects and Havehbier for letting me live in a space where disagreement is a delightful discovery. Where it is not threatening, offensive, rude or insufferable. Thanks for standing with me on our common ground and creating a lush garden where people can speak clearly and without apology about their opinions, thoughts and beliefs. Thanks for listening and allowing me to hear you in return. It is a most joyful thing to be fully present in our process. This is what I remember about community.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Picking The Scab

sad.........weary...........groping for
connection with bloody fingernails.

grooviness.............crying
a lot today...........it is confusing

for the boy........a sun blessing
sprinkles our home

in interesting shadows
still i weep sporadically

good news.............memories
a giraffe galloping

across
the
hard
wood
floor...............here

everybody is racist
I begin

with my self...........acknowledge
my shortcomings

finger the pages
another book

maybe this one
will heal

that wounded
part of me

which takes up space
in our collective

spirit
grooviness

Monday, July 25, 2005

Oh! Africa, my Lionheart

I'm in your oil fields, fading fast in your arms.
The soldiers soften, the war is looming.
Europe's shelters are blooming clover.
Angry Americans fill the lanes--
in rain again.

Oh! Africa, my Lionheart!
H.I.V. steals the kids in Marakele Park.
Read me Soyinka on churning Niger--
That old river poet that never, ever ends.
Our thumping hearts hold the lions in,
Keep Goree castle from tumbling.


The most benign, helpful,
enlightened racism eviscerates.
painful - this spreading open
of ribs and soft private pouches -
revealing the tumbled brown
churned, gnashed bits of history,

legacy within. irreverent
sing-songs trilling
unity. they always teach
animals first. this is Africa
tourism, euros,
the weight

of pounds and
dollars pressing
human blood
out of textbooks.
But we always start with animals
asia, australia, americas


and europe too I presume?
the sad sorry story of romans
bringing their own brand of imperialism
to the mangy, unwashed, breast-thumping
tattooed celts? must be saved
for later. when they are ready.

when is this? the first time
they find themselves
in a non-white environment
chirping songs of peace and human
loving to their pharmaceutical company
denied cheap drugs for AIDS diagnosed

dying African peers; or advocating
nonsense about pussy and joy
to girlfriends with mutilated genitals
who just want a cook-stove,
three cows and clean water
to survive? we have to answer

this survival question first.
who are we really protecting?
it begins with a honest head nod
to this peculiar cellular combination

we have named human.

Oh! England, my Lionheart,
I'm in your garden, fading fast in your arms.
The soldiers soften, the war is over.
The air raid shelters are blooming clover.
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes--
My London Bridge in rain again.

Oh! England, my Lionheart!
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park.
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames--
That old river poet that never, ever ends.
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
And keep the tower from tumbling.
(1)

1 - Kate Bush, Lionheart.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

What is immodest about a baby?

an insensitive rambling observation

covered in black
from forehead to nose.

at the grocery store,
a woman rolls her trolley to the till.

waits for her husband to pay the bill.
flapping little dark bird squawks for crisps.

she is maybe seven or six.
an infant's eyes peer out

from behind her veil
perched in her baby seat

silent and still.
Kate Bush's voice

in my head so shrill
singing the pedophile's longing.

what is this infant kiss
that sends my body tingling?


a morbid, shaking thrill.
2 boys hung in Iran.

I am told this boy-man love
is abundant in Arabic countries

until age brings
udders, vulvas sewn

just right tight.
Just for You

a children's book
I read daily to my baby

becomes ominous as the sweet
Turkish men fondling my boy's

hair in the
off - license.

Terror.
all babies safe

in hijab.  


 
NOTE: As an American, unfamiliar with the the diverse nuances of living in THE WORLD. I have been flipped out from jump, by the small girls I witness everyday in full hijab. Infant girl's peering out from black slits covering their noses. How are they breathing? I ask myself, well, somehow, or their would be some sort of charity campaign to keep infants out of hijab...right? I answer myself.

These baby women already covered and concealed - as if their infant kiss is so potent to drive men wild. But, we read about it in the papers all the time.  Don't we?  It is never the man's fault.  It is the babies who need to cover their lascivious selves.  

So - I wrote earlier in a post titled Islington Sunday that I saw a girl - covered from head to toe
swimming in the sand pit - as if she would take the whole world in
through her fingertips - the only exposed part of her.  

No one commented on it. I was hoping someone would tell me why we have to keep these babies covered up. Is it because they'll grow up like those boys in Iran? They'll like it...what they are getting from older persons...and then develop some bizarre highly normal sense of adolescent autonomy?

It hasn't passed my system yet. I want to accept these choices. I don't know how.

When To Run. When To Wait.

Winston has befriended a young 2 year
old woman, Amazon. She is
the boy's favorite type. Blonde. Bossy.
Self-assured. Verbal. Her Mommy drives
and has the good taste to be named

Lucy. We go to the zoo a lot
It's even better than the t.v. show
64 Zoo Lane which CBeebies had
the bad taste to cancel.

We evacuated London
for Whipsnade Animal Park -
600 acres. 2,500 animals.

Roaming free about the park are Mara, Wallaby's,
some sort of very small deer and peacocks.
He has extremely distinct animal preferences
which I have been unable to define.

He did not care at all for the Sea Lions
who waved hello, clapped their flippers,
barked and bobbed their heads "hello."
Maybe they were too unnatural.

So we left Amazon and went to sit
with a Mara family. Hello Mara! He says
quietly, I'm Winston. How are you?
he sat talking to the Mara for 15 minutes.
This would become a theme for the day.
Many long, quiet conversations
with mara and Wallaby.

Amazon finished with the sea lions
and joined us. It is funny how toddlers
know how to take and give space. Satisfied
with their individuality. We managed

to come together again for the train
ride through the area housing Asian animals.
The two baby elephants pleased him greatly.
But - the yaks and abundant baby deer
became a whole new set of friends to woo.

We lunched with the peahens and peacocks.  
One cheeky peacock jumped up at someone's table
and was eating their mashed potatoes. 
This endeared the peacocks to him -
he was having trouble whether or not
to classify them as rude, big birds to be wary of
or exciting bird with whom to make friends.
Chickens and turkeys definitely belong in the
ugly mean scary bird category.

At this point we realized we didn't have to
walk the whole 600 acres. There was a bus.
So on we hopped just in time to get
to the penguins who were being fed -
definitely birds with whom Winston would like
to be on more intimate terms.

We walked a long wooded patch
where five Wallabies were having an outing
enjoying the panoramic view of the countryside.
Amazon wanted to see something else - so she
and Lucy wandered off to give Winston time
to befriend the Wallaby pack. Which he did
for almost 45 minutes, creeping slowly closer
until they ran. Introducing himself again
and creeping closer. Over and over.
becoming more controlled each time.
Slower each time. Quieter each time.
Until they could really have a good talk.

We rejoined Amazon. It was as if she had
never been that far. flowing through each other's
distance and re-connection. He was very excited
about the baby giraffe. Amazon needed the toilet.
We happened upon another Mara family.
He sat with baby Mara while they nursed.

The baby Rhino was more interesting
to me and Lucy. By the time
the Baby Rhino was close enough
to look in the eye - he and Amazon
were running up and down a hill.
The only danger we witnessed today
was when the zookeeper was weeding
the Rhino territory and the mother
and some of her friends thought
it would be interesting to charge them.  
She and her friends changed their minds
because the zookeeper was in a ditch.

Too much trouble for so little gain.
I guess it was better the children were running
up and down a hill. It takes patience
to be with animals. Relaxing into the interesting
moments. Appreciating the endless grass guzzling,
pooping, meandering about the field. Waiting
for the terror of a Rhino willing
to charge. A small breathing space

he is beginning to learn.
When to run and when to wait.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Incidently

Ho hum. We had a "serious incident."
Not an emergency or anything
big. Found myself thinking of new ways
to sing songs today. Seems so British -

The wheels on the bus go
round and round, round and round.
The bomber on the bus says,
Jihad Now! Jihad Now!

The bomb on the bus goes,
boom, boom, boom! boom, boom, boom!
The people on the bus go,
shit, not again. shit, not again.

Walking up Dalston Lane, one mile
from the bomb bus and our favorite farm,
pond and park. Another beautiful
sunny day. One of many recently.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Money Tree

curled its verdigris fingers
in towards spindly arms.

withered
in my full-bodied
embrace. brittle

unredeemable. paper
thin shoots press
into unseasonable snow.

an icy rain freezes.
hope, this pale
bastard child sent to burn

in the tropical sun,
returns brown and lovely.

NOTE: The eldest - sent to France and then Belgium with a 600 dollar budget - emails home about poverty...her own. There are days when I remind her that The Money Tree died a long time ago. These are also the days when I find myself juggling razor blades to sustain happiness.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Racing Through King's Cross

passed through Kings Cross today on Victoria
Line. no stops. a feint odor of smoke.

eerie empty horror
movie twilight. empty platforms.

twelve people looked up, eyes
shifting, lips

pursed. most
stayed in their music

or newspaper world -
distant - far

from the bodies
and bits of flesh.
I wanted to scream -

let’s all have a moment of silence here!
but - everyone was already quiet

contained. Bombings
happen all the time.

Remember the IRA?
They were more horrified

by my breast in Winston's’ mouth - lulling
hiss groans of rocking train and working jaws

helping his eyelashes kiss cheeks.
limbs going dead in my arms.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Explosions - In Case I Missed Anyone

we're fine. Have all our limbs. And each other.

The mood here in London is quiet.
Norman was sent home from work early.
No cabs in central London.
They figured he'd have to walk -
which he did for an hour.

Even though, they said stay home,
we went out. Much like everyone else.
I think we all just want to see
how normal everything around us.
And after all, it was sunny this afternoon -
you just can't waste such blessings.
They are rare. We just walked
around our neighborhood a little bit.
We felt safe. This is where the entire 3% of
the non-white people in England live.

At the store, some young Black muslim kids
were happy - as if today was a great day for Islam.
An Arabic elder gave them a little calm, stern learning.
They weren't strutting very much when he was done.
It was nice to see in a country where most days people
are exceptionally careful to mind their own business.

The news was exceptional and weird. On one hand,
they stayed live on air until they sniffed
out all of the breaking news. Then they stopped
broadcasting news. On the other hand,

they were interviewing bleeding people
who needed medical treatment.
When a statement was completed by an official person -

s/he turned around and walked away from the camera.
The end. Done talking now. No I will not stand here
wasting my time saying "No comment. No comment.
No comment." It is strange when rudeness
is somehow comforting. But, then again, these days
someone's failure to be rude is always a great
shock and surprise. I guess
I'm getting used to the way things are here.

So - the DLR will be running again soon.
On routes towards Central London, buses
cruise emptily through the streets. Limited
tube service will be available tomorrow.

I'm grateful Number 1 slept late.
I'm grateful Number 2 was naked diaper boy
who delayed his father from getting to work

on time. So - all back to normal soon.
How weird!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Expat Independence Day

So he has become a code jockey
riding algorithms on the high tech plantation
so our basic human needs
get met. At the door, a weary

woman with words like Bearded Angler
glowing in her caliginous depths, a boy
luminescent as jellyfish welcome him
with hugs, song and much spastic jumping.

We are all tired and foreign.
And these walls - blasted
white upon white upon white -
let us know we are not home

no matter
what kind of check
we write every month.
Our hairs mingle on the pillow cases;

we kick each other
in our sleep;
and never say sorry.
Sunrise brings kisses, smiles

and hope. Still,
the mellow days
wear me out more.
How tired is nothing?


* * *

I am learning

to define nothing.

Have given up

an identity constructed

of comic book iconography

and slamming wet clay

Goddesses into each other

until they become monsters.

I am damp, dirty and exhausted

trying to climb inside

fiction.


* * *


He works all day.

I work all day
at doing nothing.

And this child

of struggle and sacrifice
still thinks he is free.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This Quiet Profit - Unschooling A Cute Kid

He does not care
to be frowned upon;
has developed a routine
for getting through public appearances.

The ABCD song is a guaranteed hit.
Identifying letters on the bus rakes in
two looks of approval, one grin
and a cheek grab. (Not ideal -

but better than the scary
upside down cascade of
smearing shades of red
on old women’s wrinkled faces.)

Counting loudly. Two head pats.
Singing our happy universe
Wheels On the Bus song
filled with chipper busy people?

Occasional chuckles,
He’s a clever one!
The random pense. On our bus,
The driver says

Have A Nice Day,
The baby and Daddies laugh
while the Mommy is sings...
La La La! La La La!

People want to believe we are possible.
It’s all about communicating
expected behaviors and trusting
Independence Man to agree. Right?

But, they are always giving him
money - especially the drunks. Everywhere
we go, 20 pence, 10 p, 1 copper
because I’m learning him up good..

My daughter shrieks,
He’s too young to be this gay!
Head pats, smiles, chuckles, 50 p -
wear purple sunglasses with a red outfit

in Angel. I’ll let the well-wishers
teach him gender codes.
In Stoke Newington - a half hearted
smile is the reward for demanding silver boots.

But, in Ridley Market, you get one pound
British Sterling from the kind West indian woman
and a 10% discount from the Indian male vendor
who wants to know What you turning him into?!?

And all he has to do
is put on ugly
brown sandals after insisting
on rhinestone slippers.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Writhing ----- Dance Monkeys Dance

UPDATE

So, I emailed Ernie with my concerns about the animation.
He replied that:
1. the flash was done by a young USC student
who he doesn’t know;
2. he had nothing to do with the creation;
3. he never felt it was an accurate
or particularly well done interpretation of the poem;
4. he could see how a link can be interpreted
as an endorsement;
5. so he’s taken it down.

Huzzah for Ernie Cline!

Communication ...what a wonderful thing it is...

* * *
ORIGINAL POST

Help me out here folks.
From the slam scene,
I know this brilliant comedic poet -
Ernie Cline

We’ve even come neck to neck
at Nationals with utmost respect.

My husband adores his work.
I adore his work. Comedic timing? Hard! Very Hard!
Getting any recognition as a performer and poet?
Even harder. Add geek to the equation and well then...
let us all have a moment of silence.

Before I dropped my arts organizing to save
my - then unborn - baby’s life, I was writing grants
to try to pay this dude to come be part of my poetry series.

Needless to say - anyone I’m trying to pay with grants
is obviously worth 20 of my own poems/paintings/
collages/ press packets/solicitations
for advancing my own damn stuff.

Yes - we all got to give to get - I believe that.
I traded my own time for other people’s well-being
and I don’t regret it.

But then - I check in with Ernie the other day.
Some dude has put up a flash animation
of what used to be a very funny poem to me.

See it at:

Screen Head under "Dance, Monkey’s Dance"
For some reason, links might not be working so:
copy and past the below url into your navigation bar.
http://www.screenhead.com/funny/flash-animation/dance-monkeys-dance-036431.php

And suddenly, I’m outraged. Feeling betrayed.
Let down. If someone had done that to my work....
I’d be litigating all over the place...but NOOOOO!!!!!
he’s promoting it on his web blog.

And I know - well I know his wife is all on
the feminist, groovy, feelin’ ya Black sister
righteous, soul train...but...our marriages never reflect ourselves
do they? or maybe they broke up and I didnt know.
or maybe they're nesting and she needs him
to have lots of exposure to buy
Fisher Price Kick 'N Bounce chairs.

So - take a peek
- no hitting the site won’t validate anything
in any real sense - ya’ll voting wit yo’ click folks
help me here okay? Condemn? Discuss?

Am I just over sensitive? Was I made into a
paranoid Afro-techno-literati by Antioch College?
Should I write him of my disappointment?
Am I over-reacting? Maybe I should

just order Damali Ayo’s greeting cards
from Cafe aPress - under the link Affrimative Accents?
and send him one. On second thought,
we should all keep a stockpile
of her work in a cupboard for the work
we will always be surprised about doing.

So - my blog friends?
Delete Ernie or keep and dialog?
You be the judge.....

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dinner Hour Empties

Clissold Park

I worry about friendly deer
and children who are not.
The way he introduces himself

to animals and rarely people.
Hello moor hens! His name Winston,
he chirps. Prefers

the playground at dusk
when shadows are long
and equipment aches

to hold children. My arms
empty for the first time
all day as he tries each slide,

swing, merry
go round
in the quiet.

Missing the different
heft and weight
of someone else’s dear

one. Graceful,
skittish boy
sitting, observing

beasts at play.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Day He Taught Himself To Blow Bubbles & Unschooled His Mama

in Abney Park Cemetery

We have left the cool house for bubbles. He likes to walk
now, it is finally hot. Twenty minutes later,
we arrive at the bus stop. We have stopped
to walk on a wall, count fence posts;
examine butterfly bushes, say good morning to the three
drunks on Ramsgate Avenue. One gives him a pence.

Within moments, the 149 swerves in the vague direction
of the curb. A harassed woman with a cranky child -
who is still content in a buggy -
waits as the real citizens jostle, scurry and
hasten to cut her off.

I am done with this greedy churlishness.
I combine my bulk with his gaily swinging body
to block the entry so woman and pram may board.
People scowl. I think, Relax.
We are learning something here.
We are learning to think
of others rather than our own selfish selves.


Secretly, I am thankful that he is walking now.
Otherwise, our lesson would have been one of the three:

a. how to be a cutthroat bitch and jockey myself to the front
of the line so the woman with the cranky baby
has to stand in the hot sun and wait for the next bus, or

b. how to be gracious about standing in the hot sun
waiting myself for the next bus with an impatient toddler
while I let the harassed woman and cranky baby board or

c. how to keep moving forward by getting
Running Boy out of his buggy, fold it down
while trying to keep him from dashing
into the street and haul both baby and buggy
onto the crowded bus where no one stands up
to let a mother and child sit unless you remind them
of their civic duty through gritted teeth without once saying

Fucker.
He reminds me that he can do by self.
He follows the horde to the 2nd level. I think,
a toddler on a bus with steps,
how can I live through this?

But, we live through things everyday.
Nothing is as huge as it seems. Until, feeling

the breeze, gazing out over the streets from on high,
I revel in the notion of a thing with wheels and two floors
that is larger than my flat. I could live here
on this sunny double decker bus carreening,
lurching through London.
Suddenly, Harry Potter takes on a depth I had yet unrealized.

This exhilaration works up an appetite. He remembers
that he is hungry and thirsty.
Not having a buggy to stow things in,
I am without consolation. Thankfully, he trusts
that we get there, I will help him solve this problem.
Fifteen minutes later, we are in Stoke Newington.

We have come this far for bubbles.
But, first we must rest and refresh.
We have done so much today already.
I buy him a box of chips and a soda
regretting it two blocks later when I pass
fruit, juice, nuts and crackers. But - I like him to know
that when I say I’ll take care of something. I will.
We are learning something here.

We duck into Abney Park Cemetery
and picnic next to the tombstone of “Grandpa”
I am glad he is not reading yet because
Grandpa “fell asleep” on April something.
But, we have come this far for bubbles, so off we go

into the ancient sentinel trees
past tombstones toppled like dominos;
through Queen Ann’s Lace, buttercups, daisies, and
faded raspberry flowers bulging prickly green promise;
we linger by the sarcophagus whose cracked
lid has turned it into to a watery grave
and said good afternoon to the drunks lounging
on a dead tree stump which has been carved into a bench.

Emerging an hour and a half later
onto the traffic screaming street.
A few paces to the toy store.
He only has eyes for bubbles.
Not the nifty bang-the-ball toy.
Not the trains or cars or animals
not the sunglasses or funky pull cow.
After such a long journey
I think we deserve prizes.
But - he is only interested in
one simple tube of soap and a wand.
Which is what we buy and

back to Abney Park. I am going to perform magic,
now, in just a second, hold on, wait
not there, just a little farther, maybe here

I sit on a fallen down slab
of rose marble next to the broken urn.
As I pull out the bubbles he dances
a little hopping jig of impatient eagerness.
I am still fixated on all the other better things
we could have bought: Brio trains, Plan Toys,

but, only bubbles matter.
Not the Kestrel observing us,
or the nervous collared dove
waiting to be eaten. Just
the ten iridescent orbs floating
and bursting in his hands.
He wants to do it by self .
I hand him the wand and he jams it into his mouth.
As I start to take it away, I realize that
it won’t kill either of us if he sips a small amount
of nontoxic soap or spills or splashes.
It certainly can’t kill him to fail.
Trying and trying. Patience. And finally,
something more fragile than bubbles is won.

And he is satisfied. Confidant. Proud.
So we wind our way past the drunks
and bid them Good Evening.
They give him some advice and 20 pence.

We went this far today so I could learn how
to get out of his way. So, I could remember
the way Knowledge quietly presents herself
and all too often I interfere or block her
entrance when all I have to do is sit, watch
wait for these two old friends to play.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Abney Park Cemetery

random clusters of recollection.
haphazard graves rubbed
clean of words,

celtic knot crosses
split in one hundred
shards of disrupted

memory, or shiny fresh
tombstones recently
flowered. five elders clutch

a tattered map
plod through brambles.
daisies push up

from a broken sarcophagus
we are all laughing.

Friday, June 10, 2005

And So

here is Spring. full of dead
old women and birth.

boys coming butt first
or too big heads already

cutting women in half.
and wisdom so much

hot, dry, sand & wind
with plentiful rain,

mud and quivering.
blessed be this season -

like every other before it.
new enough for us

to complain. nature
remembers to invite us

to contemplate challenging her will.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Blowing Off Steam

after reading
a Village Voice article about O'Neil Walker’s ordeal with Middlebury College.

Shame on you David Hawkins.

If she’s not ashamed of you
then yo’ Mama must be one of those

white bed linen hoodie wearing women
who fantasizes about Black dick so much

she’s scared herself into lynching
any imaginary boogie man

to the point that your soul is the one burning,
dangling and dickless from the soul-tree

on which the village voice was written.

Our world lingers in suffering
because of arrogant, young men

like you. You are the reason
fecund, vibrant, strong

pregnant Black women weep twice.
Once for joy. Once because

we realize that at any moment,
something wondrous

and precious - that we’ve spent
nine months making - is vulnerable

to those of your ilk. Shiver

in your shallow frigid victory.
Remember the heart always rots

once severed from truth.

At The Pond

He has decided they are berries.
I am not so sure. I say,

let us come back. Maybe tomorrow
or the next day. Let us see

what these round, fat, green ovals do.

One is hinting pink. He can sense its ripeness

- like Mama when deep sleep must be
interrupted to protect his milk supply -

it might become strange, lush
and full if he does not pluck it fast.

But, he nods. I caress wet, red,
wild splayed rose petals.

She may open tomorrow or the next
day, like this one. Let us see

how everything changes

when we aren’t looking

or even as we wait
in verdant silence observant .

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bully For You, Peacenik For Me:

Our Top ten Tips For Toddler Discipline
Thanks Deena for listening. Thanks to the Highland Park Playgroup for developing, modeling and practicing these strategies cooperatively. And thanks to all the attachment parenting, mindful parenting gurus who wrote books from which we could quilt little bits into a warming quilt.

Bullying. It made front page news here in London a few weeks ago. Probably 1 part N.H.S., 1 part A.S.S. / P.L.U.M.S. and 1 part British attitudes towards children. Bullying is causing a high suicide rate, truancy, and all of the other social ills that make “decent citizens” shake their heads and wonder what happened. Okay - so what, how sad, Jiminy Crickey what nation isn’t having a problem with their youth? Norman is planning for me to unschool Winston anyway. So, it doesn’t affect us. Wrong.

For more reasons than selfish ones, it does affect us. Whenever he is willing, I take Winston to these bizarre government subsidized playgroups. Which.... these days...... is not often. I think he knows about the unschool plan as well.

In England, a playgroup is not an organically grown group of parents with common interests, similar parenting styles and lifestyles who get together with their kids to make the day more pleasurable for all parties. It is not an intimate sharing of time wherein we question, validate, research and engage in constructive dialogue about improving ourselves as people and parents.

Here, playgroups are sponsored by the local government council. A social worker caters to the lowest common denominator and follows a schedule which has objectives such as:
* teaching us all how to play with our children;
* helping us train our children to go to nursery school;
* helping us all learn the benefits of a rigid, unyielding schedule; and
* creating the next generation of obedient serfs.

I’m glad we have somewhere to go to meet people. I’m grateful we can use their paints and mess up their space. I’m delighted there is an indoor space to go when it is raining and cold. Except, the social worker never intervenes in any conflicts. S/he never reprimands children who aren’t behaving. She just marches merrily along singing the songs from today’s chart of songs. AND We will sing and we will all make the right hand gestures and we will get up and do the exercises. We will paint the ambulance yellow. We will make the walkie-talkie black. We will paint the police man’s stop sign red. He will wear a smile. And we will control our children.

The rest of her time is spent making sure that her statistics will be accurate. More importantly, she will insure that nobody from a better or worse neighborhood has slipped in under her radar, “We have very strict cachement areas that we serve. Please make sure you write your full postcode.“

There is no modeling of conflict resolution. There is no teaching of positive parenting techniques. It is a lot of, “This is how you play with a puzzle with your child,” or “Everyone must make a nice circle right now.” And the best thing I’ve ever heard a social worker say to the parent of a 17 month old toddler, “Make your child sit down and sing.”

And there is rampant bullying; out of control children and zoned out parents who don’t do anything about it. And there is Winston. And he sticks out like the first crocus of Spring after a snowstorm.

At one of our playgroup, there is this one totally out of control boy.  His mother alternates between trying to bend him to her will and being totally oblivious.  He is a real bully.  Winston either stays out of his way or attempts to include him depending on how dangerous the boy reads at the moment.
Well last week, Boy has made off with the crayon bucket.  Mother is shouting and chasing and trying to get it back.  Winston walks up to Boy, and offers him a stuffed bunny and says: "How about this bunny?"  Boy takes the bunny, gives Winston the crayon bucket and Winston marches over to Boy's Mother and gives her the crayons.  She is astonished, floored, impressed and totally surprised.  She looks over at me and says, "Oh your boy, he is such a good boy, such a good boy."  It felt great.  Thank you Karen.  Thank you Ethan.

So - I begin to wonder why my child is so different here, but was “average” in The States. And I have come to understand that his truly formative years were spent around people who practiced the following guidelines.

My (OUR) Top 9 Tips For Toddler Discipline.

Overview
Discipline begins at birth. It begins with recognizing that - you - the parent are charged with socializing an instinctual creature into a human being. It is an active recognition of the potential humanity within a wriggling, screaming need-machine. It is about learning to let go of expectation and learn adaptability. first and foremost it invokes The Golden Rule.

1. Praise parenting.  
I take time to notice when he has done something I want him to do.  So - he seeks praise attention because he prefers it to negative attention.   I say "thank you for listening" or "I really like it when you ...."   about 75 times a day.
2. Knowing When To Say No 
I never say no unless I am prepared to get up, walk across the room and enforce it.  Sometimes, I don't bother to say no when I don't feel like enforcing something.  And that's okay - because when I do say it, he understands that I really mean it.
3.  Consistency
The movement of his day is always much the same.  He knows what to expect and when to expect it to happen.  If I say something is going to happen, it does - whether that is going to the park, getting a toy or "helping him" cooperate.
4. Respect
I don’t often grab things out of his hand (unless it is dog poop or something dangerous and vile.)  I make a trade or offer an alternative.  I say please and thank you - always.  I stop what I am doing and listen to him.  (We are learning right now how he can do this as well.)
5. Reasonable Choice
I never offer a choice when there isn't one.  I don't ask if he wants to put on his shoes.  I don't ask if he wants to wear a coat.  I don't ask if he wants to go home when it is time to go home.  I tell him.  Sometimes, there are not choices in life.  
I do ask if he wants a croissant or bread.  I do ask if he wants to go to the farm or the sand playground.  Sometimes a choice is not red shoes or blue shoes.  Sometimes a choice is "You can use that crayon on paper or I will help you not draw on the walls by taking it away."
6. Compromise
I do allow him to stay in his jammies all day.  It just means we have to stay at home.  "You can wear jammies AND we will stay home until you wear clothes."  This is our current battle.
7.  Environment
Childproofing - yes.  Forcing them to "be good" - no.   I don't think children should learn to walk through a porcelain world.  Frankly, I don't have that much energy.  (I'd rather spend my time in a peaceful, happy, calm environment than screaming about a vase or a light socket.)
8. Meaning
Giving a child context or reason to cooperate.  If it is not a life-threatening situation (or after you've saved their life) children need to know why.  Two current examples include "I like it when you sit in your high chair because I don't have to worry about what to do if you fall." He fell out of the high chair and as I soothed him I said, "Oh gee, I was so worried this would happen." (And I give no comfort num-num at this time.)  Next time I ask him to remember when he fell.  He sits right down.  and "Cars hurt when they bump into people.  They hurt so badly you'd have to go away from Mommy for a long long time." I had to help him a twice by strapping him in his stroller. But, it clicked best when I said, "I like how your hand feels in mine.  It feels like when we share num-num but we can walk around and see things and go places when we do it."   Needless to say, Winston now happily holds my hand when we walk down the street.  And he tells me "Cars hurt. Bump peoples."

9. Enforcing Family Values - We share. It doesn’t matter if it is fair or not, nothing is wroth fighting, kicking, biting, grabbing or screaming about. Our lives are filled with abundance and there is enough for everyone. And we enforce it. If someone grabs something from you, so what...offer a trade and if that fails, walk away, find something new. Chances are they’ll get bored with it in ten seconds.

Bully for you. Peacenik for me. Golly willikers, I’m such an American.